Ritchie Blackmore

Although best known for the beefed-up blues riffs of FM rock anthems like “Smoke on the Water” and “My Woman from Tokyo,” ex-Deep Purple speed king Ritchie Blackmore has always infused his guitar playing with a healthy dose of classical flair and Bach-approved minor melodicism. Blackmore, the Strat-wielding black knight of ’70s heavy metal decadence, was a major influence on neo-classical shred-heads worldwide, including, most notably, Yngwie Malmsteen. And Blackmore’s fretboard virtuosity inspired its fair share of arena-sized cigarette-lighter ovations.
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Ex. 1 recalls the climactic build-up to Blackmore’s solo odyssey on Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” The first three bars are built around a series of arpeggios (Em, Am, and G6) that snake up the neck while retaining the open E string as a common tone. The dizzying comedown in bar 4 is based on an E natural minor scale (E, F#, G, A, B, C, D), also called the E Aeolian mode—the sixth mode of the G major scale—descending in thirds.

The funky swagger of Ex. 2 is accomplished by juxtaposing a Baroque-ish, sweep-picked Fm7 arpeggio figure in the pickup bar (and again at the end of bar 1) against the bluesy pentatonic phrasing that completes the example. Listen to Blackmore burn on the extended intro to Purple’s “Lazy” to catch the vibe.

After parting company with Purple in 1975, Blackmore formed Rainbow, a group that retained the British guitar hero’s penchant for grand-scale classical drama. The sturm und drang of Ex. 3 is drawn from the operatic blockbuster “Stargazer,” and boasts a fusillade of rapid fire pull-offs culled from the B Phrygian dominant scale (B, C, D# E, F#, G, A). Sometimes called the “snake-charmer” scale, this is actually the fifth mode of E harmonic minor, and is characterized by its exotic Middle Eastern flavor. Roll over Beethoven, for sure!

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